Neuroscience Podcasts to Seriously Send Those Brain Cells Firing

by Zara Khan

MSc Student, Charité MedNeuro

Those with a story-telling flair can keep one indulged for hours. Others that present educational or scientific content keep you intellectually engaged and listening to them are by no means a passive activity. If the podcast’s host has a dulcet tone and knows how to keep things moving, even stuff that you probably couldn’t care less about will become potentially interesting. Which brings us to the million dollar question- with a plethora of science podcasts available, which ones should you listen to? More specifically, are there podcasts that deal with Neuroscientific topics? This was the quest I took two months ago.  Below are some of the Neuroscience podcasts, in no particular order, which might be the answer to your curiosity or intellectual thirst.

1. You Are Not So Smart

Photo courtesy: David McRaney

Host: David McRaney

Average length: 50-60 min.

How active? : very. Uploads content every month, sometimes even twice a month.

The good: Compares different psychology/neuroscience topics relevant to current affairs in everyday world. His podcast episodes always leave you feeling sober or humbled by the fact that how subjective, unpredictable and sometimes fickle our human selves can be. Except for a few mins of ads in the beginning and centre, there are no distractions. He also has an excellent way of introducing his guests, in that he first gives an overview of the topic and then lets his guest take over. He also doesn’t ramble or try to chime in with his own opinions during the interviews. Plus his voice is deep and eloquent, which makes it easier to continue listening to him for extended periods of time.

Start where: Tribal Psychology; Selfie; The Dunning-Kruger effect (but really too many good episodes here)

What’s missing? The podcast is excellent overall and you are seriously missing out if you have not heard of YANSS before. Perhaps the only thing you might find lacking would be that this is not, strictly speaking, a Neuroscience specific podcast but deals with psychology, pop culture, neuroscience and behaviour.

2. Brain Science Podcast

Photo courtesy: Virginia Campbell

Host: Ginger Campbell, M.D

Average length: 60 min

How active? : very. Technical and less technical content uploaded regularly since 2008

The good: This one is for hard-core Neuroscience enthusiasts. If you are a grad student and are looking for something other than the oft-repeated topics such as reproducibility crisis or women/diversity in STEM than this IS the place for you. There are 100+ episodes available as Dr. Campbell’s podcast has been one of the longest running Neuroscience podcasts to date. She discusses really thought-provoking books that are related to different subdivisions of Neuroscience and has interviewed many leading experts in the field including Drs. Michael Gazzaniga, Christof Koch, Temple Grandin and György Buzsáki to name a few. Listening to Dr. Campbell is like having your extremely well-educated grandma let you in on the intellectual discussions she has with all of her guests.

Start where: Counting Neurons with Dr. Suzana Herculano-Houzel ; John Medina on Aging Well

What’s missing? Some of the older episodes require premium subscription (but full access is possible at 5 bucks a month) so listening to Dr. Koch or Dr. Gazzaniga comes at a small cost. However, you can listen to the more recent episodes uploaded after 2013 for free. All podcasts come with transcripts as well as links to discussed books and papers. Beware though as some of the links may not work due to website revamping.

3. Shrink Rap Radio

Photo courtesy: David Van Nuys

Host: David Van Nuys, Ph.D

Average length: 60 min

How active? : very. There are almost 3-4 episodes posted every month.

The good: Dr. Van Nuys also has a talent of making his guests feel at ease and asks thought-provoking questions. There’s also a decent amount of content related to mind-body-soul science if you are into that stuff. Together with the Brain Science Podcast, this is one of the oldest running podcast I could find with quality content.

Start where: Quieting Your Inner Critic and Rising Above Social Anxiety with Ellen Hendriksen; The Body of Sex with Sarah Byrden ; The Silent Epidemic of REM Sleep Loss with Rubin Naiman

What’s missing? This is more of a psychology podcast but has close overlap with cognitive neuroscience because of the topics covered. Some episodes are longer than 60 mins so reserve this one for weekends.

4.  A Neuroscientist Explains

Photo courtesy: Max Sanderson

Host: Daniel Glaser, Ph.D

Average length: 30-40 mins

How active? : Intermittent. Has two seasons out (1st season: 8 episodes, 2nd season: 7 episodes); one in 2017 and the other in 2018.

The good: This one’s for all the British accent lovers. The episodes have a very soothing background music so that it literally calmed my anxiety during stressful morning commutes.Quite accessible, user-friendlyand the topics are quite relevant if you are interested in neurosci but don’t know where to start.

Start where: A Neuroscientist Explains: How Music Affects the Brain; A Neuroscientist Explains: Is the Internet Addictive? ; A Neuroscientist Explains: How the Brain Stores Memories

What’s missing? The podcast is not very active so if you are looking for interviews and bringing yourself up-to-date with current trends, this isn’t the one.

5. Smart drug smarts

Host: Jesse Lawler 

Average length: 40-60 min

How active? : very. Content updated religiously

The good: This podcast has one of the most amusing introductions of all science podcasts.The episodes arequite fast paced so if you cannot stand slow discussions, go for this one. Lawler is a self-proclaimed science fan boy and is an excellent host. The voice quality is excellent and all the podcast episodes come with detailed transcripts as well as summary notes. The website overall is very decently designed which makes spending time here more fun.

Start where:     Brain Implants – Medical and Beyond with Dr. Brett Wingeier; Head in the Game with Dr. John Sullivan; Cognitive Fallacies with Dr. Richard E. Nisbett ; What are “Fast-Spiking Interneurons”?; Placebo: the Power of the Mind to Heal

What’s missing? Lawler is quite enthusiastic and throws in a lot of slang and casual phrases so those looking for more serious style discussions may not agree with his hosting style (not that I’m complaining).

6.  Neurotransmissions

Photo courtesy: Joe Schumacher

Host: Ben Scholl, Ph.D., Joe Schumacher, Ph.D., and Misha Smirnov, Ph.D.

Average length: 30-40 mins

How active? : posts content every other month. Haven’t been very active for the last 2 months, though.

The good: started by post-docs at Max Planck, Florida, this podcast discusses latest topics in Neuroscience in an almost jargon-free manner. Quite accessible for the general audience in terms of content. Voice quality decent and all of the hosts are quite adept at making things moving and not chiming in too often. The general mood of the podcast is academic style and formal. Go for it if you are into interviews or seeking some inspiration.

Start where: Science Writing and Life Living with Dr. Brett Mensh; Sunposium 2017: Part 2, Technological Innovation with Drs. Ed Boyden & Viviana Gradinaru; Live from Sunposium 2017: Part 1, The Value of Scientific Knowledge with Dr. Thomas Südhof

What’s missing? Can be a bit dry at times. Needs some light-hearted humor.

7. Neuroscientists Talk Shop

Photo courtesy: Neuroscientists Talk Shop

Host: various including Salma Quraishi,Ph.D, Alfonso Apicella,Ph.D, Charles Wilson,Ph.D

Average length: 40 min

How active? : usually post 2-3 episodes every month but have not been very active recently.

The good: started by a group of professors and graduate students at UT San Antonio, this podcast is more on the technical side. Guest scientists are invited in each episode and talk about their research. The questions are more symposium-style and the atmosphere is quite academic and scholarly. If you are looking for some inspiration on someone who is working on a similar topic to yours, maybe look here for some inspiration. Although the podcast has many moderators, the questions never get jumbled up so that everything is easy to follow. Also the podcast has no ads which means no distractions.

Start where: (Interviews with) Rusty Gage, PhD ; Ann Graybiel PhD ; Dwight Bergles PhD

What’s missing? Sometimes voice quality not as crisp as you’d like it to be. Could be a bit dry and information-heavy as the time duration is only 40 mins.

8. Honourable mentions

These include Neuroscience podcasts that are no longer active. Neuropod (Nature podcasts on Neuroscience) which ran till late 2015. The Naked Scientists (Naked Neuroscience) which stopped updating after 2014. Note that the Naked Scientists podcast on other science disciplines such as Genetics, Astronomy and so on are still regularly updated.

Photo courtesy: Chris Smith (Naked Neuroscience)

A word to the wise: avoiding mindless media consumption does not mean that your ears have to be glued to scientific podcasts. Cut your poor brain cells some slack and have some time off to digest all the information. Also remember that since this article was written sometime ago, there are probably many new and potentially interesting episodes uploaded on at least half of these channels.

Header image courtesy Matthieu A on Unsplash

Originally published in Charité Neurscience Newsletter, Vol. 11, Issue 3

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